First, a quick tip of the hat to the people of Peaceville Records:
A pre-order of the LP version of Circle the Wagons brought it to my doorstep a full month before the official release date, and with a snazzy Dennis Dread-ed Darkthrone “credit card” giving access to the MP3’s to boot. This is exactly the kind of action I love to see during an age when so many folks turn to odious means to gobble up albums before true street date. More of this, please.
Second, a salute to the LP’s entire presentation:
A nice ‘n’ heavy slab of 180gm vinyl; lyrics and loads of liner notes chock full of Darkthrone-ian pearls of wisdom (including Fenriz’s latest installment of must-have albums); further peeks into what seems to have become some sort of faction of ancient metallers who trek into the wilderness together; and the added treat of a full-sized copy of Dread’s cover art on high-quality 250gm paper stock. All-in-all, very worthy of shelling out the bucks in advance, and something I’ll surely do again if it’s offered for future Darkthrone releases.
Third, and more in-depthly, a hearty hail ‘n’ exultation to these two maniacal pioneers-gone-native:
The duo of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have spent the better part of the last half-decade+ shucking the textbook definition of Norwegian black metal — something they’re obviously enormously responsible for pioneering — in favor of going Costner on today’s modern black metal cavalry. No modern trends tolerated, no forward-thinking necessary, and utmost fealty/homage payed to 1.) those elders responsible for laying down the groundwork for raw metal/thrash/punk, and 2.) those who still uphold ancient practices today. In other words, Darkthrone is unabashedly antiquated, arrogantly fossilized and undoubtedly primed with bowstrings pulled and ready to defend their oldschool metal wigwam to the death.
Admittedly, I dragged my feet into the current camp. I saw the writing plain as day scribbled on the walls of 2006’s The Cult Is Alive, but I fought because I still needed Darkthrone as my Patron Saint of Raw-as-Dog-Ballz Norwegian Black Metal. So, 2007’s turbo-charged thrashpunk F.O.A.D. floated into my life with a cantankerously crooked-brow.
Thankfully, I soon realized this new birth of Darkthrone was something I could easily align myself with, mostly because I share a similar affinity for the classic bands consistently referenced by Fenriz for riff-and-rhythm inspirations. Plus, this shit is just Fun_As_Hell. I understand there’s a level of seriousness in Fenriz’s tone when we see things such as “ANTI-KING OV HELL 001” scribed in the lower portion of Circle the Wagon‘s liner notes, but much like F.O.A.D. and its 2008 follow-up, this latest Darkthrone offering sparks the sort of torch that rekindles days when metal cronies gathered in dungy garages to pound brews, have a good time and hail the night alongside tinny boomboxes blaring Ample Destruction, In the Sign of Evil and Metal Anarchy. In this regard, Circle the Wagons strikes the target dead-center once again.
The nine cuts of speed/thrash/punk/heavy metal represented volley writing/lyricist ownership back and forth between the twosome, with the Fenriz side of the kiln burning a little hotter in terms of raucous speed & aggression, and the Nocturno end weighing heavier on establishing a fist-pumping groove. And while Culto once again zips his lip in terms of revealing who fueled his inspiration this go-around, Fenriz gives nods toward Agent Steel, English Dogs, Omen and Savage Grace as motivators trotting alongside the already well-established Motörhead enthusiasm. “I Am The Graves of The 80’s” and “I Am The Working Class” both howl and snap like a Fenriz with a spring bunny in its sites, and Nocturno throws down a surprisingly pretty moment with the catchy “Running for Borders” that’s suitably offset by the coughing, chugging (near sickly) plod of “Stylized Corpse.”
I realize Darkthrone doesn’t have much use for critics. Hell, it’s written in black and white as “The Choir of the Whining Professors” in the latter portion of the album’s liner notes. It’s a contempt I completely understand, as the two have essentially been laughing in the face of critique for damn-near 20 years now. They are a duo that seems content to continue rutting a path that remains true to what they’ve always felt heavy metal should be: raw, defiant, and most importantly, honest. That’s precisely what you get with Circle the Wagons.